According to a news report, Dmitry Argarkov of Voronezh, Russia, received a letter offering him a credit card. He didn’t like the bank’s terms, so he scanned the application into his computer and made a few alterations, then sent it off to the bank. In due course he received back a copy of the contract – signed by the bank – and a shiny new credit card.

The bank later tried to close the account because payment was overdue. It sued Mr Argarkov for 45,000 roubles of fees and charges.

Unfortunately for the bank, apparently no one actually read Mr Argarkov’s altered version of the contract before they signed it. The new terms were definitely not in the bank’s, er… interest:

  • a zero per cent interest rate
  • no fees
  • no credit limit
  • every time the bank failed to comply with the rules, he would fine them 3 million roubles ($A100,000)
  • if the bank tried to cancel the contract, it would have to pay him 6 million roubles

This week a Russian court found in Mr Argarkov’s favour, and ordered him to pay only the outstanding amount due on his account.

“The Bank confirmed its agreement to the client’s terms and sent him a credit card and a copy of the approved application form,” his lawyer, Dmitry Mikhalevich, said. “They signed the documents without looking. They said what usually their borrowers say in court: ‘We have not read it’.” Mr Argarkov is now suing the bank for 24 million roubles for breaking the agreement and not honouring the contract.

The bank has launched its own legal action, accusing Mr Argarkov of fraud. I’m sure the bank would argue mea culpa (“my mistake”) if Mr Argarkov had signed an agreement without reading it. They’d be quick to deny liability for the customer’s mistake.

But I guess that’s different.

A tale of two cities… er, approaches

Richard O’Dwyer is a student from Sheffield in England. At the moment he is fighting an extradition order to the United States. As we all know, the US likes to style itself “the land of the free.” It seems, however, that some people are more free than others… and that the “others” part of the equation don’t even have to be US citizens, let alone live in the US.

Richard’s crime is that he set up a small website linking to sites where people could watch US TV and movies online. The studios would be grateful that Richard was drawing attention to their products, wouldn’t they? Um, no. They decided he was infringing copyright. Now, the first thing to note is that the site was merely “a ‘human-powered search engine’ for people looking for places to watch films, TV and documentaries online. Users could post links to video content – on YouTube, the now-defunct Google Video, MegaVideo or elsewhere – that contained full TV programmes or films. O’Dwyer’s site would check the link worked and add it to its search engine. The site quickly became a specialised search engine for TV and film content, plus a forum for people to discuss and review the films.” [1] Second, Richard complied with legal notices from publishers asking him to remove links, on the few occasions he received them.

According to The Age, “the US authorities became concerned about a site linking to content often still within copyright. To sell a counterfeit CD or DVD of a copyrighted work is an offence, as is deliberately uploading such a work to the internet. American customs officials, after campaigning from industry bodies [emphasis mine], contended that linking to such items on other sites (as search engines and others automatically do) would also be covered by such laws. This is a contentious interpretation of the law, even in the US, where linking has in some court cases been regarded as protected speech under the first amendment.” [2]

If linking in this way is an extraditable offence, why aren’t these “authorities” pursuing Google, Bing and all the other search engines? Maybe it’s something to do with Richard’s status as an individual – a uni student without the multi-million dollar legal teams retained by companies like Google and Bing’s owner Microsoft. Pardon my cynicism.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has defended Richard O’Dwyer, and started an online petition to ask the UK home affairs minister to stop his extradition.

Once again, the studios demonstrate their head-in-the-sand approach to copyright matters. Shame on them.

On the other hand…

Elgato, a company that makes PVR software and TV tuners for computers became aware that gamers were pirating Elgato’s EyeTV video recording software to record the video coming out of their game consoles. Using the movie/TV moguls’ approach, Elgato would trot out its lawyers and demand that people stop infringing its copyright… right?

Actually, they didn’t. They first looked at how people were using their software. Gamers were making recordings using EyeTV and video capture cards, then uploading the results to sites like Youtube. Elgato decided it could offer a better solution. “We ended up finding [pirated] registration keys on YouTube where people were describing how to use our TV software and capturing devices but connected to gaming consoles. We could have continued to blacklist all the pirated keys and try to fight back. Instead we looked at the combination of capturing devices, software and workflows people were using, and at the results they were getting,” said Lars Felber, the company’s product marketing manager. “We decided that we could do better, with dedicated hardware and software which was really tailored to gamers’ needs and would help them get better results.” [3]

Elgato now produces the Game Capture HD, an elegant (and fairly cheap) way for people to record video from game consoles. Mr Felber remarked, “The response from gamers has been great. Looking at their requirements and giving them what they wanted has certainly been a good move for us.”

Are you listening, entertainment industry?

[1], [2] The unlikely poster boy for a culture war: how a knock on the door changed film fan Richard’s life forever

[3] Elgato’s Game Capture HD – fighting back against piracy

A victory for common sense

In 2008 a number of film industry companies took Australian Internet service provider iiNet to court in an effort to make the ISP liable for illegal downloads made by its users. The film studios argued that by not acting to prevent illegal file sharing on its network iiNet was essentially “authorising” the activity and was therefore liable. The studios lost that case, Federal Court Justice Dennis Cowdroy finding that the ISP was not liable for the downloading habits of its customers. Of course the studios appealed. They lost the appeal, and, sore losers that they are, appealed to the High Court – Australia’s highest judicial authority.

Today five High Court judges handed down a unanimous decision in favour of iiNet. They awarded costs (estimated at NINE MILLION DOLLARS) to iiNet.

The studios are now bleating that “the current Australian Copyright Act isn’t capable of protecting content once it hits the internet and peer-to-peer networks…” (Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft managing director Neil Gane). What utter rubbish. The ISPs have long argued that content owners already have sufficient remedies through the courts and it is not the job of the ISP to decide whether someone is guilty of content piracy. Sensibly, the courts have agreed.

Kim Heitman, a Perth IP lawyer who is secretary of Electronic Frontiers Australia, said today’s court decision “means that the content owners need to decide if they are going to continue to try to keep hold of their 20th century business model or open an online shop.” Exactly. If the motion picture and music industries made their wares readily available for download at a reasonable cost piracy would be greatly reduced, possibly almost eliminated.

I don’t condone piracy but I do have some sympathy for those who download illegally. The film and music proprietors have no one but themselves to blame for the present high level of illegal downloads. Their head-in-the-sand attitude which sees everyone but themselves at fault needs to change. While they’re at it they can abolish their stupid DVD regions which add unnecessary cost to DVDs sold in Australia, and restrict what we can buy from overseas.

Full story at The Age.